While headlines make it seem like e-commerce sales are dominating and traditional brick-and-mortar sales are lacking, each sector is struggling to define what it means to offer a product experience and what it takes to be easy to do business with.
“People have always gravitated toward brands, retailers and firms that provide value but are also easy to do business with and shop from,” President of Avionos Scott Webb explains.
The main thing that has changed within the e-commerce boom is the definition of what it means to be easy to do business with. Is your inventory visible both online and in stores? Do you provide efficient delivery methods? Can you create a product experience for the customer?
With all businesses essentially located in a consumer’s pocket through their smart device, prime real estate location in the mall isn’t a major draw in anymore. Geographies aren’t struggling anymore because e-commerce has brought access to products that aren’t available in the main street of your hometown.
In order to attract more customers to their online stores, companies are starting to reproduce the benefits of brick-and-mortar shopping by offering more visibility into what they offer.
“Anytime I can go online and see the inventory of the e-commerce store and compare that price to other locations and the shipping options, it starts to bring e-commerce to physical retail,” Webb says.
One thing that traditional retail stores have on e-commerce is providing a product experience—something that isn’t easily replicated online. Stores like Best Buy and the Lego Store are luring customers in with intricate product displays and services like Geek Squad. Consumers still need to see and feel a product, by giving them the continued support after the point of purchase keeps them coming in.
“Brick-and-mortar stores are still the best option to have a product experience, that’s why typical e-commerce stores are starting to offer a physical location. They realize that the product experience is still important,” Webb explains.
E-commerce based lingerie retailer Adore Me is planning on opening seven to 10 physical locations in New York later this year and is exploring a series of special features for the locations. Salespeople are expected to use mobile devices to check out shoppers instead of traditional POS stations and some locations will have a bar for shoppers to sit and socialize. Casper Mattress is also trying to give customers the product experience by offering shoppers to take a 45-minute nap on their beds for $25.
Meanwhile, e-commerce is still trying to have that human connection with consumers by offering chat-bots, a computer program that serves as an online customer service representative. The bots are readily available so if and when a customer has a question, comment or concern, they are able to address it there without having to make a trip to the store. While good in theory, Webb suggests that the bots are often scripted with answers to say and many companies are struggling to optimize them.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing for a brand is to be transparent. Consumers want to know if their product is in-stock, what the price is across all mediums and if their package will be delivered in a timely manner. Because companies today are bending over backward to be flexible for the consume, they’re starting to lose brand consistency. Webb suggests that companies shouldn’t become so broad that they lose the ethos of why people were engaged in the first place.
“Having mixed models that allow you to see the products, but also allow you to see in a certain way, while providing price transparency, is still very powerful when you keep it true to your brand,” Webb says.